Career as a EMT/Paramedic

What Does an EMT/Paramedic Do?

EMTs and paramedics are so much more than "ambulance drivers" -- which, by the way, they hate to be called.

When a life is in danger, they receive a call from a 911 operator. Often, these responders are first on-scene, ready to do everything in their power to aid the sick and injured. These men and women have a passion for helping others. They routinely work alongside police and firefighters, saving lives in fraught situations. The assistance they give and the satisfaction they receive from making a difference are hugely rewarding aspects of this career.

The vital, uplifting work of this field is symbolized by the Star of Life, a blue six-pointed star outlined with a white border that features the rod of Asclepius -- a snake-entwined staff signifying medical care -- in the center. Designed by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, it’s used to identify and validate EMS personnel, equipment and vehicles.

Salary of an Emergency Medical Technician/Paramedic, More Stats

  • $17.04

    Average Hourly Wage

  • 10 Minutes or Less

    Took EMS to Arrive after Being Notified, in 56% of Rural Car Crashes Involving Fatalities, 83% of Such Urban Crashes

  • 25-30 Million

    People Treated Annually by EMS personnel

  • 150,000

    Patients Transported by Fixed Wing Aircraft Annually in the U.S.

  • 24%

    Job Growth between 2014 and 2024

  • 25th

    Best Healthcare Job, According to U.S. News & World Report

What Does an EMT Do?

Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics are part of the field of Emergency Medical Services, or EMS. They provide immediate medical attention in emergency situations -- accidents, car crashes, natural disasters, heart attacks and overdoses, among many others. Lives may depend on their quick reactions and capable care. Once an EMT or paramedic has provided on-site care, they continue their care as they transport patients to hospitals and other medical facilities via ambulance -- and sometimes by helicopter or airplane.

EMTs assess each patient’s condition and determine appropriate treatment to stabilize the patient. Treatments may include: opening and maintaining airways, ventilating patients, administering CPR (with or without an automated external defibrillator), controlling hemorrhage, treating shock, bandaging wounds, treating burns, assisting in emergency childbirth, managing diabetic and allergic reactions, seizures, poisoning and more.

All paramedics begin their careers as EMTs. They perform all the same procedures as EMTs -- and then some. While EMTs aren’t allowed to administer medications orally or intravenously or to use medical equipment like an EKG, paramedics administer IVs and oxygen, perform surgical airway insertion, place catheters for venous access (central lines), are authorized to prescribe approximately 30 medications, and much more.

EMTs and paramedics have strenuous jobs. They work in all types of weather, risk being exposed to patients with contagious diseases, and may become injured when lifting stretchers into ambulances. What’s more, angry or mentally ill patients occasionally lash out at them, both verbally and physically.

Most EMTs and paramedics work full-time, sometimes over 40 hours a week. They may work overnight and weekends, and in 12-or 24-hour shifts.

A day in the life of an EMT can vary widely. Generally speaking, here are O Net Online's common work activities that most of them -- no matter their title or environs -- take on during an average day on the road.

Treat medical emergencies.
Implement advanced life support techniques.
Sterilize and operate diagnostic or therapeutic medical instruments or equipment.
Inform and collaborate with medical professionals regarding patient conditions and care.
Monitor patient progress or responses to treatments.
Record patient medical histories.
Analyze patient data to determine patient needs or treatment goals.
Administer intravenous and non-intravenous medications.
Maintain inventory of medical supplies or equipment.
Position patients for treatment or examination.
Interact with patients to build rapport or provide emotional support.
Maintain medical or professional knowledge.

Tools of the Trade

How do you know if you're right for a job? More to the point: Does your mind work the way an EMT's should? To find out, see which mental skills are integral to their common work activities, at least according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

CompassionProvide emotional support to patients in an emergency, especially patients who are in life-threatening situations or extreme mental distress.
InterpersonalWork on teams and coordinate activities closely with others in stressful situations.
ListeningListen to patients to determine the extent of their injuries or illnesses.
PhysicalBe physically fit, as the job requires a lot of bending, lifting, and kneeling.
Problem-solvingEvaluate patients’ symptoms and administer appropriate treatments.
SpeakingClearly explain procedures to patients, give orders and relay information to others.

"The biggest misconception is that you will race from one high-stress emergency to the next. EMS is often a disappointing career for self-identified adrenaline junkies. EMS is the true safety net for America’s health care system. Only occasionally does the work require providing life-saving care."

Greg Friese, MS, NRP

University of Idaho, 1996

Types of Jobs in Paramedics

The responsibilities of EMTs and paramedics depend upon their certification level.The National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) provides national certification for EMTs, Advanced EMTs and paramedics. Additionally, every state has its own certification programs, and the procedures EMTs and paramedics are allowed to perform vary by state. Here is how the Bureau of Labor Statistics describes the types of jobs available in the field...

EMT-Basic (EMT I)Cares for patients at the scene of an incident or accident. While transporting patients by ambulance, he or she assesses a patient’s condition and may manage respiratory, cardiac and trauma issues.
EMT Intermediate (EMT II and III)Have more advanced training that allows them to administer some medications, and to use manual defibrillators and equipment to help patients in respiratory distress.
ParamedicsTrained to provide more extensive care than EMTs, who are not allowed to provide treatments using needles (i.e., treatments that break the skin). A paramedic may manage emergency teams, triage multiple patients and give medications orally and intravenously.

Day in a EMT's Life

The best way to learn about a profession is to shadow a professional for a day, even a week. To save you some time for now, here is a snapshot of the days of two working emergency medical technicians.

Rich Lucius is a paramedic in Massachusetts, working two 24-hour shifts per week, the first being a transfer day, and the other being a 911 response ambulance in a small city.”
Transfer Day
7-10 a.m.Inspect truck, try to figure out where to get supplies needed to make my truck a functional ALS (Advanced Life Support) ambulance. Chat with coworkers about what foolishness we got into over the weekend. Discuss various exercise regimens some of us are up to. We have Crossfit people, skiers, runners and those who are pretty sure fantasy football is an activity.
10 a.m.-1 p.m.We'll usually get one or two transfers in this time, going between local hospitals with varying specialties or taking patients from community hospitals into the Boston hospitals.
1-3 p.m.Try to get some coffee, have a lunch, restock the truck from whatever we used on the previous calls.
3-8 p.m.Transfers. Always. We will invariably not see our assigned base in this time. Sometimes we will get held over in other divisions of our company for transfers or for emergency coverage.
8-11 p.m.Rest and recover. Restock. Try to get my bunk made. I will always wind up talking with my coworkers instead of getting some rest ahead of the overnight. And it will always be a bad idea to not sleep during this time.
11 p.m.-2 a.m.Transfers from community hospitals to either the "mothership" hospitals, or from small community hospitals into Boston.
2-6:30 a.m.Hope for sleep, but my dreams will be dashed (literally) by some kind of transfer or a neighboring community requiring ambulance coverage.
6:30-7 a.m.Gather my things and hope my relief is on time.
911 Day
7-8 a.m.Inspect truck, try to figure out where to get supplies needed to make my truck a functional ALS ambulance. Drive to local hospital to raid supply closets, return dirty linen. We will often get a response either for someone who didn't wake up or did wake up, but then had either a breathing problem or chest pain.
8-9 a.m.Wash truck, take out trash, sweep and mop. Our calls during this time will typically be for car accidents, as people are rushing to get to work.
9-10 a.m.Attempt to get coffee, as well as some lunch supplies. This is when we get called to schools for the anxiety riddled teen who has made self-harming threats.
10 a.m.-12 p.m.Sit and relax. Read.
12-2 p.m.Calls for chest pain.
2-4 p.m.Calls to the courthouse. People with either chest pain (phantom or otherwise) or alcohol withdrawal.
4-6 p.m.Calls to doctors’ offices. The offices close at some point, and doctors will send patients to the ER.
6-8 p.m.More calls for chest pain, but usually either an intoxicated party who is about to be arrested claiming the chest pain or someone with anxiety from the day.
8-10 p.m.Respiratory calls. Real ones. We will always have to do some tricky bit of paramedicine in this part of our day.
10 p.m.-1 a.m.Overdoses. Mostly narcotics.
1-3 a.m.Attempt to sleep.
3-5 a.m.The last three house fires I've gone to were at this time of day.
5-6:30 a.m.Sleep, hopefully.
6:30-7 a.m.Gather my things, hope that my relief is on time.
Jon McCarthy is a former paramedic and current lead field training officer in New Orleans: "The days were much different when I was on the streets with the city. The shifts were scheduled as 12 to 16 hours."
Emergency Room:
9 a.m.- 12 p.m.Clock in, assist with patient care.
12-12:30 p.m.Take a half-hour lunch.
1-9 p.m.Assist with patient care.

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